Picolé is a short film highlighting the realities of hope and loss for young people living in favelas

Jan Vrhovnik produced the film in collaboration with Seu Vizinho, a non-profit initiative that operates a school of arts for favela residents.

9 July 2020
Reading Time
4 minutes


When Slovenia-born, London-based director Jan Vrhovnik was invited to visit his friend Rafael in Brazil, he started researching, “being fascinated by Brazil and having never been,” he tells us. His research inevitably brought him to favelas, the distinctive sprawling low-income neighbourhoods which occupy the surrounding areas of Brazil’s cities, including Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

“Some of the facts completely floored me,” Jan states. Those facts include that there are over 5 million children under the age of 13 living and working on the streets of Brazil. Collectively, approximately 20 million children live beneath the poverty line and the majority of these live in favelas. “Due to the lack of government initiative for employment and institutional ignorance of the favelas, criminal gangs operate within them as a pure necessity for survival,” Jan adds.

What’s more, there is a “total absence of healthcare, schooling and extracurricular activities” which has only contributed to the growth of drug gangs. “With few qualifications, and even fewer employment opportunities, young favela residents are often lured into the drug factions with at least the promise of regular pay,” Jan says. “It’s a vicious cycle. The illegal activity in the favelas results in violent and frequent police raids in which innocent kids are killed, caught in the cross-fire or simply put down as suspicious targets. To the police, all favela residents are criminals.”

Just last month, a 14-year-old boy named João Pedro Matos Pinto was shot and killed by police. He was described by The Guardian as “far from the first young black Brazilian man to meet a premature death at the hands of the police. Thousands have been killed in recent years – and 75% of the victims were black.”

Compelled by what he had discovered, Jan wanted to create something which would shine a light on the innocence of those who are being targeted, to remind everyone often-times, the victims in these cases are children. He wanted, he explains, to create a “story that will be understood beyond Brazil.” The result is Picolé, a short fiction film which follows one Brazilian boy’s hunt for a cool blue ice lolly, from the moment he wakes up. “Everyone can relate to the desire to devour an ice lolly in a long hot summer.”

With seemingly direct references to the opening scenes of City of God, we follow this young boy’s movements down the back streets of his favela home and to an ice cream parlour. He finally secures his lolly only to drop it on the floor, an apt metaphor for the cycle of hope and loss, of expectation vs reality and the day-to-day navigation of favela life as a young person. Jan describes it as “part dreamscape, part stark reality,” and one which “holds a magnifying glass over just one life in Brazil’s 11-million-resident-strong favelas.”

There’s an incredible pace to the film, which refuses to let go of your attention. It’s an editing technique with roots in Jan’s background as a drummer and which is only furthered by an “uplifting and moving” soundtrack by João Taborda. The film was also produced in collaboration with Seu Vizinho, a non-profit initiative that operates a school of arts for favela residents. The film’s protagonist is 11-year-old Tubarão who lives in the heart of Aglomerado da Serra, Brazil’s third-largest favela, and who is an active member of Seu Vizinho. “Owing to the lack of opportunities and realistic options, a high proportion of the young people living in favelas fall into the guiding hands of criminal gangs. Seu Vizinho is working to offer alternative paths,” Jan adds. “The aim of this project was to showcase the creative potential that can come from channelling the energies of the favelas’ youths in the arts.”

Overall, Picolé is not a film of despair, but one of hope and colour, a direct response to the community Jan encountered in the favela. He concludes: “The care for other residents felt overwhelming – something many people in [economically rich] nations have never experienced. The pride and love for the place they live is humbling. The children don’t appear to want to leave the favela, despite their shared fear of constant danger.” He finally adds, “I’m hopeful this film shines a different light on the favela youth and encourages the national and international public to act on bringing about change.”

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.


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